Friday, 7 August 2009

History of Football

Football” before the 19th century referred to any number of ball games played on foot. The rules of these games differed from one another, some allowing the use of hands “running games”, others forbidding it “kicking games”. One legend has it that the football game rugby, American football’s ancestor, was invented when an Englishman grew tired of the no hands restriction, picked the ball up, and ran. Out of an interest to enforce the rules of the game the other players tackled the fellow. So much fun was this diversion that running football games were born. Whether this is true or not is unknown, but what is known is that football does have its origins in the games played by pre-colonial European peasants.
The first vestiges of what would become American football are found in the 19th century in the games played by students at the elite schools and universities of the United States. A particularly violent running game was played at Princeton University circa 1820, and around this time a kicking game was also being played by students of Dartmouth College. Rules for the Dartmouth game, known as “Old Division Football”, were published in 1871. The first running game to codify its rules was the popular English sport, rugby, and it did so in 1845.
While there is some degree of debate over what constitutes the first American football team, most sports historians point to the Oneida Football Club, a Boston club founded in 1861. Nobody knows what rules this club used; whether they played a running, kicking, or hybrid version of the game. It is also known that rugby was taking off in Canada around this time. The Montreal Football club formed in 1868 and is said to have played a variant of English rugby. This became the root of Canadian football, which is important here for it later had a large influence on American football’s development.
It is not clear what the rules and regulations most of these early football games followed. However, the infamous Rutgers v. Princeton game in 1869 opens a window to the past. The game was played by two teams of 25 people each. Each team was composed of 11 “fielders”, 12 “bulldogs”, and two “peanutters” whose job was to hang out near the opposing team’s goal so as to score from unguarded positions. This fact suggests there was no such thing as an “offside” rule at this time. American football at this point closely resembled soccer in the sense that a team scored goals instead of touchdowns and throwing or running with the ball was not allowed.
While the NFL states that this early game was indeed based on soccer and not rugby, it did begin intercollegiate football games. Four years later, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers codified the first ever set of intercollegiate rules for football. However, these rules forbade players from throwing the ball or running with it. It was soccer.


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